I had a very boring encounter the other day. I was in a small town scoping out a Catholic church with my wife and infant son. To get closer to the doors, I did a u-turn and idled the car on the other side of the street. The church was closed, but my son was fussy, so we sat there a bit.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pickup stop beside my car. I was trying to soothe my son in the backseat, so I didn’t pay the driver mind until he went into reverse to get in my field of vision. It was a sheriff’s deputy, apparently coming off his shift. I rolled down my window. “Hey, this is a one-way. If you want, you can pull around and park on the other side.” I nodded. He drove away, and I went to the other side of the street.
It took me a while to appreciate how bizarre this encounter was—bizarre because it was so boring. I hadn’t known it was a one-way street, maybe I missed the signs. The street was three cars wide, so unless an episcopal funeral had broken out, I wasn’t blocking anyone’s progress; in fact, if anyone was blocking traffic, it was the deputy sitting in the road. The deputy looked like one of the many good cops we have in our parts: Naturally affable, but big enough where you wouldn’t want to mess with him. I wasn’t threatened, nor could the deputy feel insulted as I politely acquiesced.
But the encounter was a very gentle reminder that we live in a Police State. This fact is more evident if you live in the inner city than if you live in the suburbs, but it is true everywhere you go. Police State has a pejorative connotation, but it really isn’t necessary. It is a simply a state where the functions of enforcing the law are given exclusively to the government. As a natural result of this, special privileges are carved out for this group of people, effectively creating a new class of citizens whose function is solely to enforce the law. One can argue that all these changes are meet and just. And he might be right. But he can’t argue that the average citizen, in such a state, has fewer rights than the police. This is the Police State, and we clearly live in one.
In the minds of most Americans, the law belongs exclusively to the government: They create the laws, and they enforce them. The “thin blue line” is the boundary between anarchy and well-ordered freedom. A citizen’s role in this is to call the cops when he sees a crime committed.
It was not always this way. Most of our Anglo forebears would have found it abhorrent that nominally free people placed their property, families, and lives in the hands of such a small and privileged class of government functionaries. The law was not something created by the government out of whole cloth to be used at their disposal, but a good that belonged to every man, and which accordingly conferred rights and duties on its beneficiaries. Not surprisingly, at common law men had an affirmative duty to arrest a criminal engaged in a felony and to bring him before a magistrate. This was just the application of the Law of Nature which belonged to everyone: Judges had a special role in discerning it, constables had a special role in effecting it, but ultimately the law belonged to everyone, apart from any special roles.
This was the system American inherited. It was the atmosphere in which the Founders wrote and ratified the Second Amendment. It was regular citizens, individually and in concert, primarily responsible for enforcing the laws. A group of men so skeptical of keeping standing armies against foreign enemies would never have tolerated a standing army to be used against domestic ones.
Of course this did not endure. Throughout the 19th Century, the common law rule was eaten away, and “community policing” departments arose through the Anglosphere. Robert Peel established the first modern police force in London in 1829. Big city American police forces came into their own in the late 19th Century. In all cases, the police forces were a reaction to the chaos and disorder caused by industrialization. In America this was particularly evident, for the new proletariat was largely drawn from an unwashed and unlettered immigrant pool with no domestic social ties and no relationship to any institution that had previously kept social order.
In other words, modern police have always been the enforcers of the Revolution. The new police forces were a palliative, a way to maintain baseline social order in countries whose native communities were being torn apart or demolished altogether. Modern police have always been an alien force, cleanup men for social disorders and upheavals that inevitably follow revolutionary changes imposed by the powers that be. Even this tradeoff was unpalatable to some remnants of the old order. Says Albert Nock, “When Peel proposed to organize the police force of London, Englishmen said openly that half a dozen throats cut in Whitechapel every year would be a cheap price to pay for keeping such an instrument of potential tyranny out of the State’s hands.” The police forces did become tools of tyranny, instruments of party bosses, a salve held out to an increasingly dependent people.
The enshrinement of the police as a special class was completed with the Civil Rights Movement. One can see how it came about through reading James Q Wilson’s Varieties of Police Behavior from the late 1960s. Wilson contrasts what he calls a “watchman” style of policing versus the modern “legalistic” style then coming into vogue. The watchman was a cop who enforced the law selectively. Red light districts he left alone almost completely; domestic incidents he could sweep under the rug once or twice for the purpose of marital peace. This kind of cop knew his neighborhood well, and saw his goal as tamping down criminal misbehavior, not eradicating it as a whole.
The problem is that the watchman was racist. He let black hooligans get away with their misbehavior rather than arrest them and get them involved with the “system.” To the civil rights gurus of the day, this spoke to the systematic racism of the police, an attempt to drown black communities in squalor. And so a “legalistic” style of police was adopted: Under this approach, the laws would enforced across the board, from traffic tickets to petty thefts. Police were no longer advised to use their discretion in particular cases, but to act “as if there were a single standard of community conduct – that which the law prescribes – rather than different standards for juveniles, Negroes, drunks, and the like.” Willie Parker, who took over the LAPD in 1950, became the embodiment and biggest proponent of the new system.
It might seem contradictory that a “dragnet” approach to policing was being applied at a time when crime rates were exploding. A better way to think of it is that the law was now being applied equally poorly everywhere. The law was now completely in the hands of government bureaucrats; the average citizen did not even have the protection of the commonsense beat cop. It was an appropriate accompaniment to the racist violence that drove all mobile white people out of the cities. The police were adeptly and rigorously enforcing middling crimes while your sister was assaulted in the park, or while gangbangers took over your grandmother’s neighborhood. And of course it did nothing to curb black crime. Selective enforcement of the law was racist, then indiscriminate enforcement of the law was racist, and now the law itself is racist.
The legalistic system is now all but universal. The courts and legislatures have determined that cops are not allowed to use their discretion in their most important functions as police. The dragnet approach to minor crimes is now standard for poaching more serious offenders. This is why the traffic stop has become such a sticking point for “back the blue” types. Detaining drivers for things like blinker malfunction is not really a practice that can be defended by a nominally free people, but it gives cops a pretext for keeping their eyes on drivers, so it remains.
This is how it came to be that police enforce laws whose violation does no harm, and which no sane man could care about. There is a deep reason for this: It is that the government believes all rights arise from and through the government, and therefore it is no surprise that government agents are needed to keep those laws in effect. This is why prudential application of the law cannot be tolerated, for it would be ceded that some of your actions do not belong to the regulation of the government.
On a more practical level, the police understand, consciously or unconsciously, that they control social order, and even a small transgression of the law threatens the class meant to keep that artificial construct from collapsing. And that artificial construct is frail. There exists no system grown out of organic social order or common moral norms, and the police, so far as they gird a system that systematically under-punishes offenders, are the enemies of any true system of justice. We live in a manufactured state and the police are and always have been the tool whereby social disorder is kept at a baseline functioning level.
This is why you and I get approached by police for minor infractions. Maybe some cops get a kick out of playing the tyrant. But most of them have imbibed the belief that they are the mechanism for social order, and that if the mechanism is functioning well, there will be no thefts or assaults or even irrelevant parking infractions to sully the final production. Where social order flows through the government, it is only natural that a good-hearted government agent would want to keep things pristine.
ON DEFUNDING THE POLICE
None of the above observations support defunding the police. The police are still primarily a reaction against social disorder, not its cause. It may be that police, like doctors, end up doing more harm than good, but this is hard to believe given population demographics.
There are worse things than our current police state. I would rather be ruled over by the local police department than the local community college or bar association. Police as individuals are usually very decent people, who get into the work because they love the community and genuinely want to serve and protect it. The problem is not individual police, but the nature of the institution itself—which ultimately has these decent men making traffic-ticket quotas and enforcing child support judgments against working fathers.
The solution is not to emasculate the powers of the police, but to enlarge the rights of the people. “The law of England and this country has been very careful to confer no more right [in arresting malefactors] upon policemen and constables than it confers on every citizen.” So said New York Mayor William Gaynor, in the early 20th Century. What parity between police and citizen means in the era of traffic stops and no-knock warrants is hard to discern in the particulars. But as a general principle, it is sound. It is a guiding light for what we should be working for if we ever dare dream of ordered liberty outside the Police State.
The first practical step is to stop eviscerating the rights we have. In response to the (completely justified) killing of Ahmaud Arbury, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, dismantled the citizen’s arrest laws of his state. As far as I can tell, there was no outcry over this pathetic cowing to the BLM mob.
There is a complete lack of awareness of what a grotesque moral evil Kemp has permitted and encouraged. Just put it this way: Imagine if Arbury had not been burglarizing an unfinished home, but had dragged a woman in there and raped her. Under the new regime, anyone who witnessed the crime would have no legal right to stop or apprehend Ahmad while he is trying to escape his crime. In fact, Ahmad will have the legal right to use force, perhaps lethal force, to oppose his apprehension. This is what the vitiation of the citizen’s arrest means.
The case for protecting and expanding the powers of citizen’s arrest is not a hard moral claim to make. But that claim must be made. And in the present day, no one on the right is making it.
By way of comparison: Where were Kemp’s calls to promote gun control after the Arbury case? Any call for gun control would be impossible— Kemp would be dead in the water the moment he signed off. The conservative movement takes gun rights seriously, and no Republican and even most Democrats, cannot trifle with them. This movement, by the way, rose in spite of the opposition to the police unions (remember “cop killer” bullets?); now the unions know well enough to keep their mouths shut on the topic.
The next step is to restore the proper spirit of the Second Amendment. Restore and expand citizen’s arrest laws. Expand the rights of self-defense and the scope of defense of property. Permit greater leeway for “well-regulated militias” to mind respect for the law and the service of warrants. None of these changes would diminish the police’s actual ability to perform their tasks. It would only diminish their relative power within the state.
If this seems outlandish, consider the legal and moral revolution regarding gun laws in the past 20 years. Even in a completely effeminate state like Minnesota, the state of gun rights is strong. The first Concealed Carry laws passed 20 years ago to much griping from liberals and moderates. Now the laws are uncontroversial, and no politician could seriously consider removing them. The old DFL platitudes that only the government should have guns is now dead letter.
There is no great reason a similar transformation could not occur in the present. On a moral level, it should be easy to convince the Right that the above proposals are reasonable and parsimonious. Even moderates could be convinced. The average moderate has two great concerns: Not getting car-jacked, and knowing in his heart that he is not racist. And when the former weighs more heavily on his mind, he is more easily convinced by Dinesh D’Souza arguments that Democrats are the real racists for opposing citizen’s arrest laws—are they against empowering minorities?
Even if no practical measures came out of this reawakening, just raising awareness would be a blessing. It would be a kind of corollary to the rise of the awareness of anarcho-tyranny. The problem with the term “anarch-tyranny” is that it really only applies to those on the receiving end of it. To the Government, the present system is nothing but a more perfect form of tyranny. Governments of the past were constrained to use soldiers and police to commit their thuggery. But now the modern tyrant has the mob at his disposal as well, and to use it, all he has to do is tell the police to stand down.
Our system is anarchy kept in place by tyranny. There is going to be worse anarchy of some sort in this country, and the question is how order will arise out of chaos. The answer to this will depend on where we believe our rights come from, whether they come from the State, or from somewhere else. If you believe the former, then there is not much more to talk about other than politics and wielding control of the government. If you believe the latter, then you have the ability to see what true order looks like even while the tyrannical state still envelops you.